Peoples Defense urges Columbia to #SayHerName

After the Breonna Taylor verdict was announced, Peoples Defense organized four days of protests.

In front of Columbia City Hall, a few dozen protesters held signs in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on Sept. 25, two days after a grand jury only charged one officer involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor.

The group, organized by Peoples Defense COMO, consisted of regulars who had been protesting on the corner for months and others who were first-timers. All of them were there to protest the wanton endangerment charge brought against one of the former police officers who shot fatal bullets into Breonna Taylor’s apartment. He was charged for endangering her neighbors.

Roger Gibson, one of the only Black faces present, had a place at the front of the crowd where he could easily be heard when he shouted back his appreciation to the protestor’s supporters.

“They didn’t charge the cops who murdered Breonna Taylor, and that shows you what they think,” Gibson said. “They’re more concerned about the white neighbors that got bullets in their wall than the bullets shot into her. I am a Black man, and I’m here to fight against injustice.”

Peoples Defense COMO has been active since May 30 — a few days after the death of George Floyd — and recently reached a milestone, protesting for 100 days straight. The group drafts legislation, meets with local and state representatives, hosts protests and more.

Currently, it is prioritizing banning chokeholds altogether, increasing education of law enforcement officers and helping the city implement different de-escalation tactics. Hand in hand with these requests, it is asking the Columbia Police Department to teach officers how to better handle foot pursuits.

In the Peoples Defense crowd, June Carrisalez and Tim O’Leary stood together behind Gibson. Carrisalez, a non-binary activist, held their “BLACK LIVES MATTER” sign above their head and waved to passersby.

“In every system in America — the school system, the policing system, even just day-to-day life — there is a profound amount of racism,” Carrisalez said. “As a Hispanic [person], I’ve experienced so much. I can’t even imagine what Black people experience on a day-to-day basis.”

O’Leary, a friend of Carrisalez and first-time Peoples Defense protestor, stood close to the sidewalk where the sign “HONK FOR JUSTICE” was propped up against the stoplight. The sign drew attention; drivers blared their horns and some rolled down their windows to shout their support.

“A small group still has a lot of power,” O’Leary said. “You see all of these people coming out, honking and waving at us. It gets people thinking and talking.”

Catherine Armbrust, supply organizer for Peoples Defense, handed out snacks, masks and signs. She said she’s lived in the academic world for too long and Peoples Defense has helped her come out of that bubble.

“As a white, middle-aged woman, I live in a very privileged space,” Armbrust said. “It’s my duty as a citizen and as a human being who has empathy to help communities that are suffering, that are in pain.”

Each week, the Peoples Defense puts out a new schedule. On the schedule is the location of the protest, what the protest is for and often a call to action. The group’s main focus remains the struggles faced by Black Americans, but their protests feature signs supporting many social justice movements from LGBTQ rights to women’s rights. This week the group tackles voter suppression. The schedule of protests and events organized by Peoples Defense is here.

Edited by Joy Mazur | jmazur@themaneater.com

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